Friday, August 20, 2010

Malaysia - Truly Asia

It dates back to March 2008 when I made a family trip to KL (Kuala Lumpur) and also visited the beautiful Island of Langkawi which is approximately over an hour flight from the capital. The weather is tropical i.e. remains the same round the year. The light thunder showers are very usual with rains almost every day or at times every hour. I have visited KL many times on business trips and with family as well but there is something so special about that place that I am always looking forward for any opportunity to visit this beautiful capital of Malaysia. It’s homely, green, amazingly maintained, wonderfully laid out infrastructure, friendly people, and variety of food catering to everyone’s tastes, great place for shopping, modern buildings, hotels and malls offering literally all sorts of brands etc.


  • Pavilion (opposite JW Marriott on Jalan Bukit Bintang) 
  • Lot 10 (approx 200 meters from JW Marriott on Jalan Bukit Bintang)
  • Times Square (approx 500 meters from JW Marriott on Jalan Bukit Bintang)  
  • KLCC (next to Petronas - next to famous KL Twin Towers)

Cinemas & Theme Parks

  • Golden Screen Cinemas (on the 3rd floor of Pavilion Mall on Jalan Bukit Bintang)
  • Indoor Theme Park (on the top floor of Times Square Mall)
  • Sunway Lagoon (water theme park on Petaling Jaya)
  • Genting highlands (approx. 1 hour drive from Bukit Bintang)   
 Other Places (must on link below)

Things to do & see......

  • Petronas Towers (they give first 100 people free pass to cross the towers as the two are connected, you should reach early around 7:30 am if you want to go). Mondays are closed.

  • Menara also called KL / Telecom Tower. At the top of this tower, there is a revolving restaurant with a picturesque view of KL and especially Petronas Towers. This tower is around 900 feet around the same height as that of Eiffel Tower. If you want to have food there, you need to do reservation in advance from your hotel reception.
  • Gentang Highlands (around 45 minutes drive outside KL with all sorts of interesting rides and casinos)
  • Cameron Highlands (tea gardens around 2 hours drive outside KL)
  • China Town (cheap replicas of all sorts of branded wrist watches)
  • Putrajaya (purpose built capital of Malaysia, its close to airport while driving from KL airport to KL city, there is a turning on the right side)
  • DiGi is worth seeing as well
  • Starhill Gallery (inside JW Mariott hotel on Jalan Bukit Bintang)


  • On Jalan Bukit Bintang inside Lot 10 Mall close to JW Mariott. There is a factory outlet and you will be surprised to find branded T shirts, shirts, pants etc for as low as Malaysian Ringgit 25
  • On Jalan Bukit Bintang next to McDonalds you will find Giordano, usually there is sale on that store round the year
  • Pavillion and KLCC are all full of branded stores, while Lot 10 and Times Square is relatively cheaper with other brands as well
  • Metrojaya is good in terms of prices
  • Electronic malls 5 min walk from Pavillion mall close to metro station 
  • Bargain for anything you buy in KL as you are likely to get substantial discounts
  • Langkawi island is duty free so you must shop from there as the same are sold in KL at premium  
  • Get well oriented with KL city as it is mostly around Jalan Bukit Bintang, the cab driver will charge you RM 10 or RM 15 and you will be surprised that he took you through a long distance. Although if you had good orientation, you could have simply walked. I experienced it couple of times.


It is a beautiful island (just over 1 hour flight from KL main airport, also reachable via ferry ride)

Other attractions apart from beach on this island includes:

 o Carting

 o Cable Car on the highlands. You can have caricature and wax sculptures (you will be asked to dip your hands inside cold and hot wax and the gentleman will make a mould out of it, fill it with colour of your choice and wax and deliver it to your hotel)

 o Water world

 o Bowling in nearby shopping malls

 o Water sports

 o Renting car or heavy bike

Have a great trip!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Istanbul - The Gateway to Europe

It was way back in early April in 2009 when I went with my wife to celebrate our 1st wedding anniversary. The best time to travel to Turkey is end of April or early May as the season usually starts at this time period and the hotel costs will rise in summers.

I have tried to list some useful tips below with few recommendations.

Hotel Stay

In terms of ideal locations for hotel stay in Istanbul, the ideal locations are either Sultanahmet Area or City Centre as its in the heart of the city and most of the attractions in Istanbul are literally at a walking distance including the famous Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi palace and Kapala Chachi (The Grand Bazaar) and the restaurants and train stations as well.

For hotel reservations you can visit Agoda as it offers the best rates.

I personally recommend Orient Express hotel in City Centre at the Sirkeci tram station.

During my stay in Istanbul I met a local Turk Mr. Aydin who was a Manager at Blue Hills Hotel in Istanbul who now runs his own tour operator company Turkey Online Tours. He can recommend a very nice guided tour.

However, I personally prefer doing my own hotel reservation and airline booking and do not want to opt for a package / guided tour as then you are bound by timings and there is no flexibility. It all depends on preferences though. I strongly suggest the same to you as you can discover the country on your own. In a package deal you have paid in advance and you cannot opt out and have to follow the activity list and it becomes annoying if you are not in mood for it. So just do hotel reservation and airline bookings and discover on your own as it is much more fun.


Airline Travel

I was traveling from Islamabad to Istanbul and the best connection in terms of airlines is offered by Emirates Airlines. I suggest Emirates and you can have a stopover at Dubai on your way to Istanbul. The other relatively cheaper option for airline was Qatar Airways from Islamabad which operates via Doha. However, if you are traveling from any other part of the world, then you should opt for Turkish Airways as it has a very good foot print in terms of international destinations in the portfolio. From Asian countries, Emirates offer good flight route and is very comfortable.
For visitors from Pakistan, I have few tips for visa and tickets:

  • The personal appearance at the embassy for the visa is important

  • The Turkish embassy in Islamabad entertains only first 15 applicants in the morning. Therefore, be on time as early as 7o’ clock in the morning at the visa section

  • The visa fee for single and multiple entries varies. It’s around PKR 3,600 per single entry

  • It is safe to apply 2 weeks before actual departure

  • Apart from standard requirements in terms of documents including tickets, hotel booking, ID card, passport, a company letter and health certificate from a doctor are essential

 When you land at Istanbul International Airport…..How to get to the hotel?

When you will land at Istanbul airport, you can go to the hotel via taxi or tram / metro. I suggest that you take a tram / metro as it is convenient and cheaper and you will have fair idea about the city and tram / metro stations as well. The taxi will cost around Turkish Lira 50 from Airport to Sultanahmet area / city centre. I recommend tram / metro as it will not cost more than Turkish Lira 10 and it is very comfortable as well.
For the sake of reference, see the below route and hops for tram / metro stations: 

  • From Istanbul Airport when you come out of the arrival area, you will see the metro station across the road.

  • Get off at the Zeiytanburnu metro station

  • Now you have to take a tram and get off at Sultan Ahmet station (you will most likely be staying there).

  • You will pass by lots of tram stations in between like Eminonu, Sirkeci, Gulhane etc

Places to Visit

The world renowned landmark of Istanbul ‘Blue Mosque’ or ‘Sultanahmet Mosque’ is near Sultan Ahmet tram station. Another attraction in the Sultan Ahmet area is Hagia Sophia. It was a mosque, then got converted to Church and then back to a mosque and now it’s a museum.
President Obama entering Blue Mosque (April 7, 2009) - We landed in Istanbul the same day and all roads were blocked from Airport towards Sultanahmet area so we had to take a metro to reach our hotel

And yet another attraction in the vicinity is Topkapi Palace. Here you will find amazing possessions; Prophet Muhammad's hair and foot impression, Caliphs (Hazrat Abu Bakar, Hazrat Usman, Hazrat Ali) swords with which they fought different wars. You must request for an audio guide (costs around Turkish Lira 20 per equipment), all places are coded with different three digit / four digit codes and by pressing those codes on your audio device you will be hearing history and details in English with multiple language options as well.

Taksim Square / Istiklal Street as it is normally called is like a fashion street for youngsters and travelers as they all gather in the evenings. It remains open till mid night. You will see the young crowd in this street as this is a very happening and lively place with shopping and other food attractions. To get to Taksim square, take a tram from City Centre / Sultan Ahmet wherever you are staying and get off at Kabatas tram station and then take underground metro for Taksim, get off at Taksim and you will come out at a square and you may then ask for directions for Istiklal Street which is literally 5 minutes walk from the Taksim square.

The ferry ride on Bosphorous is a must. You can get the bookings for the ferry done from your hotel reception. The ferry takes you to various islands (the most popular ones being Princess Islands). You will pass by the hanging bridge which divides Asia and Europe (Istanbul is called as a ‘gateway to Europe). The two ends of the bridge welcome the visitors with ‘Welcome to Asia’ and ‘Welcome to Europe’ at the two ends.

A few minutes taxi or tram ride are the Galata Towers, it’s a huge tower with a very interesting history and there is a restaurant at the top for dining. A dinner at the top at night is a great experience.

Dolmabache palace is another very interesting attraction at the bank of Bosphorus River.
Dolmabache Palace in the background on the banks of Bosphorus

You can also go to Princess Islands across Bosphorus river and rent out an apartment as its very exclusive and scenic, away from hustle bustle of city life.

I love the culture and was dying to see the famous Turkish Sufi dance and Sufism (Sufism or taṣawwuf (Arabic: تصوّف‎) is, according to its adherents, the inner, mystical dimension of Islam.[1][2][3] A practitioner of this tradition is generally known as a ṣūfī (صُوفِيّ). Another name for a Sufi is Dervish). Sufism also originated from this part of the world and you can do reservation for a Sufi Dance show at Hoja pasha cultural theatre. You can reserve from your hotel and to get there you have to get off at the Sirkeci tram station.
Musicians playing Sufi poetry at Hoja Pasha Cultural Centre


Istanbul has number of very good bazaars and malls. I visited a lot of these.

Cevahir - From Sultanahmet tram station, get off at Kabatas station and then take an underground train and get off at Levent metro station and when you come out then across the road you will see the mall. It’s one of the newly built malls in Istanbul. It’s very modern and apart from shops, there is a wonderful food court at the top floor.

Akmerkez - From Sultanahmet tram station, get off at Kabatas station and then take an underground train and get off at Levent train station. You should Exit the Metro at the ‘Sisli – Mecidiyekoy’ stop. If you brand cautious then you should certainly visit this mall as it offers most of the upscale branded shops.

Grand Bazaar / Kapalachachi - It is close to Sultan Ahmet area and offers a lot of traditional hawkers selling Turkish Delights, Turkish tiles with calligraphy, clothing, jewellery and Turkish Eye (A nazar or evil eye stone -Turkish: nazar boncuğu, Greek: ματόχαντρο) is an amulet that is meant to protect against the evil eye. It is most common in Turkey and Greece. In Turkey, it is ubiquitous in offices and homes, in jewellery, including for babies, on vehicles, doors, horses and even cell phones).

Spice Bazaar - It is another interesting place which was built way back in the 17th century. It offers more or less the same stuff as you find in Grand Bazaar.

Istiklal street near Taksim square - It offers good shopping opportunity with low price range for clothing. One of the best Turkish brands to look for are ‘Collezione’
Izmir / Anatolia / Konia - You may also fly to Izmir and Konia, cities close to Istanbul. You can visit Mevlana Rumi's tomb in Konia


  • Sultan Ahmet area across the road infront of Blue Mosque offers all sorts of cuisines and Turkish delights

  • All food is Hilal in Turkey so no worries

  • Taksim offer very nice traditional restaurants

  • There is McDonald's at Sultan Ahmet close to tram station

  • There is a Pizza Hut across the Taksim Square

  • You can also find Pizza Hut and McDonald's in Istiklal street at Taksim square

Important Notes

  • Jeton is a coin that you need to insert at the entry gates when using tram or metro

  • In Istanbul, you can use Euros or Turkish Lira

  • The currency exchange in Sultan Ahmet area, Istiklal street and inside the malls are usually open till 8:30 PM

  • Wherever you see the word 'Indirum' it means SALE or Discount

  • In Istanbul, you must remember that you should not miss any opportunity for haggling. You can good bargain if you negortiate with shop keepers in Istanbul as prices are not fixed.

Its a MUST 

  • Ferry ride at Bosphorus offering a package deal with belle dance, tea and dinner at night

  • The Turks are know for very special calligraphy. You can visit Sutlan Ahmet area and order something for yourself or for your frienfs and family in Latin, Urdu, English, Arabic etc. It could be a saying, your name or verse from the holy book

  • Sufi dance at Hoja Pasha cultual centre
  • Istanbul is known for its Turkish bath -- also known as 'hammams'. A Turkish bath (Turkish: Hamam) is the Turkish variant of a sauna. There are many historic Turkish Baths in Istanbul from the Ottoman period.
  • Walk at Istiklal street across Taksim square

  • Turkey is also popular for gems and jewelery. There are many shops infront of Sultanahmet tram station but for the best bargain, do visit Grand Bazaar

  • You must buy Turkish eye (all over Turkey you wills see blue coloured round glass with a dot inside and its called Turkish Eyes or Nazr. You will get the best bargain from Spice bazaar or from grand bazaar.

You must buy the delicious Turkish delights from Istiklal street or Sultanahmet

Wish you a wonderful trip to Istanbul, Turkey.